In part one of this series we laid out a biblical and historical case for encouraging a community approach to songwriting. Of course an exhaustive argument from the Bible alone would probably take a book, because the Bible is replete with proverbs, examples and prophecies relating to community. Isaiah 52:8 says “The voice of your watchmen – they lift up their voice; together they sing for joy” and Proverbs 11:14 tells us “… in abundance of counselors there is victory.”
As we head into the nuts-and-bolts of how to set up a songwriting circle, we must start with an awareness of two things: the enemy and the foundation:
“We have met the enemy, and he is us.” ~ Walt Kelley
Pride. The Bible tells us that pride bred Satan’s rebellion: “I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). Then in Eden, he tempted Eve in the same way: “God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God …” (Genesis 3:5)
We battle pride every day. Our successes puff us up, our failures embarrass us. We long for the praise of others and we either shirk from criticism or wage war against the critic. We complain to God, “Why am I going through this trial? Haven’t I served You? Aren’t I more faithful than my co-worker, who just got a raise?”
For this reason, the first resource after the Bible that I’d recommend to an aspiring songwriter, and especially to a songwriting group leader, is Humility: True Greatness, by CJ Mahaney. This short, accessible book by the leader of Sovereign Grace Ministries teaches how to recognize the often undetected pride in our hearts and how to live in humble, grateful victory at the foot of the cross. Here is my “songwriters’ addendum” to Mahaney. Let this sink in before you begin any sort of collaboration or workshop series, and share it with everyone seeking to join your group:
1. You are not the best judge of your own songs. You’re too close to them.
2. No matter what your strengths are, someone, somewhere is better than you. And it could be the person sitting right next to you. In fact, assume that she is.
3. You can and will learn from new songwriters and non-songwriters, if you can repent of the thought “He doesn’t understand this song because he isn’t a writer.”
4. The “great cloud of witnesses” in the history of God’s church includes some mighty fine songwriters. They may have gone on to their reward, but their songs are still here to teach us. My church’s current CD project is to write songs based on the hymns of Isaac Watts. This is a great aid to humility. If you’re co-writing with Watts, there is one member of the team who isn’t as talented as the other. And it’s not the dead Englishman.
“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” ~ 1 Corinthians 3:11
St. Patrick’s breastplate included this famous inscription:
Christ with me. Christ before me. Christ behind me. Christ within me. Christ with the soldier. Christ with the traveler. Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me. Christ in every eye that sees me. Christ in every ear that hears me.
Now, here is my worship songwriters’ version:
Christ the giver of my song. Christ the reason for my song. Christ the receiver of my song. Christ the carrier of my song. Christ, my song. Christ with the musicians. Christ with the vocalists. Christ in the heart of my support group and collaborators. Christ in every eye that sees my lyrics. Christ in every ear that hears my song.
If Christ isn’t the foundation of all you do, then you aren’t really worshiping Him. And if you aren’t worshiping Him, then you surely aren’t a worship songwriter. Indifference or criticism will offend you, and praise for your work will never be enough. It will wear off and you’ll begin to feel neglected until someone else says something nice about you.
Remember that ultimately, nothing nice could be said about you apart from Christ. No matter how talented you are, you’re just one more sinner destined for hell, apart from Christ’s work for you on the cross. This is why we write songs and why we sing – God is infinitely pure and holy, we are sinners deserving of His wrath, but God so loved the world that He gave His Son for us, pouring that wrath on Him so we would no longer be enemies of God but adopted sons and daughters, privileged to enjoy Him forever.
Remember that we were created for community and are creative in community, and that Christ is our foundation while pride is the potential downfall. We can then begin to think about how to put together a group of songwriters. In the next article I’ll tell you how we started our group at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, and I’ll include ideas for how to adapt this roadmap for your own congregation, no matter how your church is structured, where it’s located, or how many members you have.
Pray. If there are a few of you interested in encouraging songwriting at your church, then pray together. Ask your pastor to pray, your small group, your deacons and elders. Ask God to guide you and to guide people to you who may be interested in this work. Pray for wisdom. Pray for deliverance from pride, and pray that Christ will be magnified in your life. None of the logistic planning or team-building exercises are as important as this.